Pope Francis thanks churches in North Africa for their courage

(Photo: REUTERS / Tony Gentile)Pope Francis listens to Rahmi Yaran, Mufti of Istanbul (R) during a visit to Sultan Ahmet mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul November 29, 2014. Pope Francis began his visit to Turkey with the delicate mission of strengthening ties with Muslim leaders while condemning violence against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.

Pope Francis has thanked the Church in Libya and the ecclesial communities in North Africa for their courage and for being a peaceful presence in an area where freedom of conscience is under threat.

The Pope was addressing members of the Episcopal Conference of North African Bishops, CERNA, who were visiting the Holy See, Vatican Radio reported.

CERNA gathers prelates from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.

"You are one of the peripheries" of the world – Pope Francis said to the prelates from North Africa - and you are the face and the heart with which God reaches out to the people of this periphery.

Pope Francis encouraged the bishops from northern Africa on March 2 to have dialogue and contact with other groups, fostering hope for good relations between Muslims and Christians in the region, Catholic News Agency reported.

"Interreligious dialogue is an important part of the life of your Churches," Pope Francis said March 2, addressing the bishops of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya during their ad limina visit to Rome.

"The most effective antidote to any form of violence is education in the discovery and acceptance of difference as richness and fertility.

"Therefore, it is essential that priests, religious and laypeople in your dioceses are well-prepared in this area" said Francis, noting it is important to "deepen dialogue in truth and love between Christians and Muslims."

Both Tunisia and Libya experienced revolutions in 2011 in what was known as the Arab Spring.

Libya has, however , been in chaos since then.

Pope Francis noted this in his address saying, "For several years your region has been experiencing significant changes, which offer hope that aspirations to greater freedom and dignity may be fulfilled and which favour greater freedom of conscience.

"But at times these events have led to outbursts of violence."

Pope Francis said, "I wish to mention, in particular, the courage, loyalty and perseverance of the bishops of Libya, as well as the priests, consecrated persons and laypeople who stay in this country despite the many dangers.

"They are genuine witnesses of the Gospel. I thank them with all my heart and encourage them to continue their efforts in contributing to peace and reconciliation throughout the region."

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